By Michele Markarian
‘Ideation’ – Written by Aaron Loeb. Directed by Jim Petosa. Presented by New Repertory Theatre, and Co-produced with Boston Center for American Performance at 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown through September 24.
“Ideation”, the Boston-area premiere of Aaron Loeb’s funny and terrifying play, has at its heartbeat the center of American, indeed, world, personhood – the corporation. An international consulting group has tasked its team of A-list high flyers to come up with a solution for a multi-layered situation that has troubling implications.
Hannah (Christine Hamel) is a step higher on the corporate ladder than the others, as she takes her orders from the omnipotent JD (like the Wizard of Oz, he is never seen – just a voice on an intercom). Her team includes a PhD, Sandeep (Matt Ketai), a family man Ted (Ed Hoopman) and the arrogant Brock (Lewis D. Wheeler). She has been given an assistant, an incompetent millennial and son of a board member, Scooter (Jake Murphy). When Scooter voices his opinions in a way that belies his status as intern, Hannah, with a push from Brock, fires him. This infuriates JD, who had wanted Scooter to take notes on their timed brainstorming session. As Scooter is of seemingly average intelligence and education, the team wonders what is not being revealed about his necessity to the project. But this is just one of many questions the team has about the task they’re being asked to solve, such as its nature, how many other teams are working on it, how ethical is it, etc. Their paranoia and self-absorption threaten to spin out of control as each consultant fears for his or her own survival within the corporation. Should they take the project at face value and not ask questions, or listen to their consciences? Is the corporation being transparent? Is something nefarious at play, or is it just another day on the job?
And am I being paranoid, or was playwright Loeb quietly taking notes in the corner of my own corporate workplace? He captures so well the politics and mindset of unwieldy corporate life, where the mind decides to fill in the gaps of information that appear to be short on detail, or the paranoia that ensues when one feels out of favor with the head honcho. Whether you’re a corporate drone or someone who is outside of that life, “Ideation” is a win-win for everyone, as it cunningly depicts either one’s experience within a global enterprise or one’s idea of what that experience would be. It’s hard to do the right thing when your lifestyle depends on your income and you don’t have all of the information.
Jim Petosa’s fast-paced direction builds a frenetic energy as the members of his excellent cast threaten to spiral out of control. Christine Hamel is spot-on as the uber-competent Hannah, who veers between the corporate veneer of team leader and the freaked-out risk-taker whose marriage is in danger. Matt Ketai’s sincere Sandeep actually seems to have a conscience, although that conscience doesn’t really serve him. Ed Hoopman is excellent as Ted, the company man who just wants to draw a box around the task they’re presented with and come up with a solution, despite his misgivings. Lewis D. Wheeler does a great job as Brock, the aggressive guy in the office whose main goal, as Ted tells him, is to win. This he will do by making everyone else around him feel inferior. The adorable Jake Murphy manages to infuse Scooter with both guilelessness and shrewdness.
“Ideation” takes place within Ryan Bates’s beautifully designed high-tech, chrome and glass set. “Ideation” is two hours without an intermission, yet it is performed and directed at such a clip that you don’t even notice. This is a must-see for anyone living and working in today’s world, where information is missing, reporting may or may not be true, and personal values and integrity are bordering on extinct. I guess that means everyone. Go see it! For more info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/